It is less than a month before the NFL draft and for at least one team what they do in the three-day event in May will lead them to a Super Bowl title.
For the 2014 New Orleans Saints the reach is close. The Saints , along with the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, Carolina Panthers, Denver Broncos, New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts, are the clear-cut top teams in the league today and the right choices in May could well be the catalyst to put them in the Big Show.
The Saints have addressed some obvious needs in free agency in acquiring one of the elite free safeties in the game in Jairus Byrd, one of the all-time great cornerbacks in Champ Bailey-who at 36 years old will most likely be the #3 or nickel cornerback for the squad and a heavy duty lead blocker/H-back in Eric Lorig.
The holes on this football team are depth at the center spot with second-year center/guard Tim Lelito the likely starter, a “stretch the field” wide receiver, another cover cornerback or two and another starter type at linebacker, if he were available.
In Round One most would love to see LSU’s Odell Beckham, USC’s Marqise Lee or Oregon State’s Brandin Cooks on the board for the Saints, but it is highly unlikely any of the three will be there.
There is no center in this draft class that will be picked in Round One.
So that could well mean that the Saints go the route of a linebacker or cornerback in the opening round, if they stay pat at #27 spot.
With five receivers likely off the board in Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Beckham, Cooks and Lee and tight end Eric Ebron that means a defensive player will be pushed to late first round pick status.
On the opening night of the draft watch what happens to one of the three players in Ohio State outside linebacker Ryan Shazier, Alabama inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller.
Cornerback is still a high need area for the Saints, but on paper you might not put linebacker high on the list, but with contracts due for outside linebackers Victor Butler and Junior Galette and inside linebacker David Hawthorne with a rich financial deal, linebacker is indeed a need spot, either now or a year from now.
Champ Bailey is a Hall of Fame cornerback, but the Saints are getting the 36-year Bailey, not the 30-year cornerback. Bailey is still a great technician, very physical and a proven ballhawk, but he has lost some of his unique foot speed and he is fighting off what all players at his age do, the injury bug.
It is not that Bailey can’t play, but the question mark is can he stay healthy?
The Saints, along with the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots proved this off-season that if you want to keep a player bad enough or covet a player in a high fashion you can somehow make room financially.
But eventually the “money well” runs low.
And this football team needs to financially secure tight end Jimmy Graham and defensive ends Cam Jordan and Akiem Hicks in the very near future.
Give credit where due to Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and salary cap guru Khai Harley for some very creative financial juggling this off-season.
With the football team coming back in 2014, the Saints have the best shot to reach Super Bowl Sunday than any other time since the 2009 season.
But this football team has a couple of more spots to be filled and need to have immediate impact from rookie draft choices to make that final move.
One thing I have learned with either first or second round picks is to not just pick an obvious need spot because it calls for it, but rely on the scouting department and gut decisions by the people in charge in those opening rounds, even if it not the most obvious need spot for your team.
For the Saints at #27 they will have options and those options could well be more at cornerback and at linebacker than at wide receiver.
In the most talent rich draft I have ever scouted the talent at wide receiver there will be a player in Round 2 like Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief, Clemson’s Martavis Bryant or Colorado’s Paul Richardson available.
And if the team passes on a cornerback in the opening round to go linebacker a cornerback like Keith McGill from Utah, Lindenwood University’s Pierre Desir or Nebraska’s Stanley Jean-Baptiste could be available also.
Under the duo of Sean Payton and Mickey Loomis the Saints have done well with first round picks, but the key in every draft early is to get value.
Don’t’ push the envelope on a player that doesn’t fit or isn’t worth that “value” pick.
There will be a lot of football noise between now and May 8, but with a team close the biggest question mark may be do you trade up to secure that big time speed threat at wide receiver, trade back to possibly acquire extra picks or do you stand pat and pick the best player on the board.
With 2014 the best shot to return to Super Bowl Sunday that important decision in Round One and Round Two will be crucial on getting this football team there.